« AnkstesnisTęsti »
As he rode along, Huntley observed the appearance of the wheat-fields, and noted that, like his own, some of the straw roofs of the stables needed patching. He watched a hawk sailing in long, graceful downward curves, and he listened to the cries of the killdees; he looked awhile at the up-twinkling hoofs of the mules, and occupied himself for some time in chasing a persistent horse-fly over Jimmy's back with the end of his whip. Finally, having exhausted all the apparent sources of amusement, he put the remainder of the tobacco into his mouth, slouched forward in his seat, with his arms resting across his knees, and gave himself up to the unwonted exercise of reflecting. When Huntley went into a committee of ways and means, his first expedient was always to consider what he could borrow. Now, the prospect in that direction was not encouraging. The "claim" was mortgaged, and probably for all he could get on it; he had just given Cleary a mortgage on the cow and pigs for costs and attorney's fees, and nobody would take a mortgage on the mules until the suit was decided. He might borrow enough plug tobacco "to run him through "—that was the term he always used, and it meant probably until he could get some more money. With that possibility in his mind, he checked off the first source of revenue. Crops all destroyed by hail; and he checked that item off. If he won the lawsuit and kept the mules, he could mortgage them for enough to pay Cleary and "run him through," and go back to his job of grading in Johnson County. Clearly, it all hinged on the lawsuit, and, having arrived at that satisfactory conclusion, Mr. Huntley dropped the inquiry, and turned for a moment to retrospection. Notwithstanding the hail-destroyed wheat, he had done so well with his grading that the perennial mortgage on the mules and the cow had actually been paid off, and he had ten or twelve dollars ahead. All kinds of astonishing vistas of unmortgaged ease and affluence had been stretching before his mental vision when that patent dasher came along and operated upon his hopes.
All this brought Mr. Huntley again to that no-thoroughfare of the lawsuit, and by this time the mules had brought Mr. Huntley home and were turning in from the road, which was a mere wagon-track over the grass, by a "shack" built of boards and covered with tar-paper. As the wagon creaked by the house, a round-faced, fat, stubby-legged little form, clad in waist and breeches, came running to the door, and with a cry of, "'Ere 's pap," darted after the wagon. "'Ere 's pappy," shrilled a small treble, and a smaller, rounder-faced, more stubby-legged form in a gingham dress came running after the first one. As the two left the house an infantile wail went up from within, and a form
all roundness and fatness came lumbering on all fours to the door. A little way from the house a cow was "lariated" on the prairie, and as Huntley drew up at the straw-roofed sod stable and began unharnessing the mules, a woman came hurrying across the grass toward the house carrying a tin milk-pail. She was tall and thin and stoop-shouldered. She wore an old, limp sunbonnet and a calico wrapper that, back and front, fell in straight lines from her head to her heels. As she came to the stable door Huntley was opening his jack-knife for "Oddy."
"Pap ain't got no candy fer you to-day, son," he said, with a big, homely smile that hurt him clear down to the bottom of his big, homely heart as he saw the little fellow's face fall. Mrs. Huntley peered in at the little brown beasts that were already munching their hay.
"Did you get the mules, Lem?" she cried eagerly.
Huntley looked at her with his slow, deprecatory smile. "Not fer keeps yet, 'Randy," he said. At his tone and expression the eagerness faded from the woman's face, leaving it seamed and dull. Huntley took the pail from his wife's hand, and the two walked together to the house, where he set the milk on the table, and then came out and lounged down on the grass while the wife sat on the door-sill. "Well?" she said, shoving her sunbonnet back and drawing her hand across her brows. Her form was bent, and her hands were as marred by work as his own; her face was lean and sallow, but there was a remarkable intelligence in her large, dark eyes, and she looked the daughter of a daring and self-reliant race.
"Well," her husband drawled, "we 've replevied the mules. The trial 's next Wednesday." He paused a moment, rasping his hand over his chin, and then went on: "I was talkin' with Cleary, 'n' he says 'at we'll win 'er if we can get the right sort of a jury. He says 'at the feller had the papers-the contracks 'n' such - printed to the 'Herald' office, 'n' more 'n likely Risley knowed all about it. If we can jes prove 'at Risley knowed about the printin' of the contracks, that 'll knock 'im out. He says 'at Risley kind o' owns the printin'-office, somehow, 'n' if Potts 'll tell the truth about the printin', we 'll win 'er. Cleary says 'at if we get a jury o' farmers they'll knock Risley out, anyhow, on gen'ral principles. I reckon mos' farmers don't have no love fer money-lenders." To Huntley, the plural pronoun, which he got from Cleary, represented himself the plaintiff, and Cleary the attorney, and all that part of the mysterious machinery of the law which he supposed somehow to be operating in his favor by virtue of Mr. Cleary's efforts.
"Seems like it 's too bad, Lem, to get into
trouble jes when we was gettin' along first-rate - a top of all the bad luck you 've had," said Mrs. Huntley.
"I know it, 'Randy. I know I ought n't to 'a' done it. I ought 'a' be'n cuter. But I thought it was a chance to make somethin' 'ithout leavin' you 'n' the young ones alone." Huntley confessed this awkwardly, and with his eyes on the ground.
"Oh, I ain't a-blamin' you, Lem. You thought it was all fer the best." She clapped her brown hands over her knees, and looked out over the ruined wheat-fields. Then she burst out with, "What can you expect when such scoundrels is left runnin' over the country?"-expressing as best she could the hot sense of outrage and rebellion which possessed her. She shut her lips a moment, and then asked quietly, "What 'll this lawin' cost you, Lem?"
Huntley looked up at her and then down at the ground. "I 'ad to give Cleary a mortgage on the cow 'n' pigs fer forty dollars to git the bond-'n' the costs 'n' his fees," he said. Mrs. Huntley laid her hand on his shoulder. "Lem, s'pos'n' you lose the mules, what 'll we do this winter with the cow 'n' pigs gone, 'n' you can't earn no more money gradin'?" she asked.
Huntley pulled his hat down over his brows. "Gawd knows, 'Randy," he said. He said "God" when he swore, and "Gawd" when he spoke reverently. He plucked up spears of the dried grass and tore them with his fingers, keeping his eyes on the ground. "I could n't get no flour to-day," he said, still looking down. He rasped his hand over his chin once or twice, and gave a choked laugh. "If the fros' don' nip that little patch o' corn, we can have some corn-dodgers by and by, I reckon," he added.
Mrs. Huntley's face had cleared by this time. "We'll get along somehow er 'nother, I reckon," she said, not hopelessly, as she arose.
Huntley pulled himself up slowly, and stood for a moment with his hand in his pocket, looking over the prairie. "Yes," he said dubiously; "I guess we'll get along somehow. We 'most allus have-somehow."
POTTS locked the door of his printing-office, dropped the big, jointed key into his trousers' pocket, swung his coat over his shoulders, and started home. It was Friday night, and the week's issue was 66 off." At such times Potts usually walked briskly and held his head up; but to-night, though he walked rapidly, his step was slouching and his head bent down. He turned off from the business street, and at the end of two blocks came to the square, white
one-storied house to which he was fond of referring in the "Centropolis Herald" as “ye editor's domicile." Here, he constantly gave his readers to understand, the bosom of his family resided. James Garfield and Rutherford Hayes were playing with dust-heaps in the road; the twins were worrying the cat beside the house; and inside, pacing up and down the room and appearing at the door at the end of every beat, the eldest, Hildegarde Evangeline, carried the youngest, Evelina Rosaline. In the Potts family the prerogative of naming the boys was Mr. Potts's, while his consort ransacked a memory well stuffed with long and wildly romantic names for the girls. The room, which took up half the space inclosed by the four walls of the house, was low. A worn and faded rag carpet did its level best to cover the floor, and, except for a ragged hole in the middle, succeeded very well with about two thirds of it. There were three or four straight-backed chairs; a pine table against one wall, and opposite a lounge of home manufacture, covered with a straw-stuffed tick of green calico; and a big, oldfashioned rocking-chair, which was indisputably the property of Mrs. Potts. Indeed, she occupied it now. Mrs. Potts was a fat and flabby woman, all of whose foundations seemed to have given away and left her hopelessly sagging and rickety. Her heavy eyelids drooped over her pale eyes, the corners of her mouth drooped, and even her fat, colorless under-lip drooped. Her round, heavy shoulders sagged forward, and her big, oily hands moved listlessly. She was occupied with trying the effect of a pale-pink cloth rose and a short, bright, straight red feather on her last summer's hat. As Potts entered, the child set up a peevish cry, and Mrs. Potts let the hat and its decorations fall into her lap.
"Ain't that child to sleep yet?" she asked grievedly. "Take it into the bedroom, Hilly, and see if you can't rock it to sleep. It's 'mos' time for you to get supper." She said, "Is 'mos' time." Mrs. Potts was too tired to sound more letters than were necessary to convey her meaning.
Potts laid his coat and hat on the table and dropped into a chair. "Well," he said, as the girl and the baby left the room, "I've been subpoenaed in that Risley and Huntley case."
His wife looked disconsolately down at the pale rose and the bright feather in her lap. "Wad da they want o' you?" she asked.
"It's just this way, Gracie," said Mr. Potts, stroking his red chin-whiskers. "There's no doubt that that man Hawk was a little-not exactly square." Mr. Potts felt most apologetic to Mr. Hawk for being obliged to make this statement, but, having made it, he grew more courageous. "He swindled that Hunt
ley; got him to sign the note and mortgage somehow, and Risley claims to have bought the note in good faith. And those blanks that I printed for Hawk- -those- there was a correction on two of the proofs in Captain Risley's handwriting, which might have the look, or be made to appear, somehow, as though Captain Risley had some foreknowledge. Of course I don't think Captain Risley 's the man to go into a barefaced fraud; and yet-" And yet those pencil-written words on the proof in Captain Risley's peculiar hand stared up at him.
"Of course Captain Risley never said a word to me about the blanks, nor I to him. All I know is those corrections," Potts hurried to say.
"Then wad da ye want to say anything about it for?" Gracie demanded.
Potts got up, and mopped his forehead. "If I'm put on the stand, Gracie," he said, "I'll have to tell the truth."
"Well, wad da you know to tell? You said he never said nothing to you, or you to him. Ain't that enough? Wad da you want to go lugging in the other about the proofs for," Mrs. Potts persisted dolorously.
Potts was nervously pacing up and down "But, my dear," he expostulated, "it's not a question of lugging in anything. You don't seem to understand. Here's Huntley, a citizen, entitled to equality before the law. He calls upon me for my testimony. I am bound-it's my duty my duty "Potts felt that he was getting his feet on firm ground; but his wife rolled back with:
"Well, I don't know what that Huntley's ever done for you that he can expect you to get into a mess with Captain Risley for him."
"It ain't Huntley at all," Potts cried; "Huntley's got nothing to do with it - that is, with me." Mr. Potts paused a moment and untangled himself. "It's not what I owe to Huntley; it's what I owe to-to-civilization," and Mr. Potts spread out both his arms as though to express by the gesture the broad idea for which he could find no adequate word. "And you 're never thinking what you owe to Risley," his wife retorted. "That 's just like you- you 're always going off after some fool thing like that and letting the rest go. Look at what Risley 's done for you - you know he's got a mortgage on everything you've got." Mrs. Potts was getting her spirit up; she even turned one flabby hand palm downward.
"But what do I owe to my conscience?
What do I owe to my Maker? What do I owe to my fellow-men? What-would you have me dishonest?" Potts cried vehemently, standing in front of his wife, and gesticulating.
At this Mrs. Potts began to whimper. "That's it-go pitching into me, go hectoring me," she said. "And what do you owe to your poor family? We can be turned out, and be outcas's. You ain't got no feeling for us."
"Why, my dear, I 'm sure I did n't mean to speak harshly. I'm sure, my dear wife, the happiness of you and the children is my first consideration. I'm sure I did n't intend- I only wanted to show you how necessary it was that I should hold up my head with honest men—”
"And you don't care about me holding up my head. I can be a beggar; I can be nobody. Only to-day Mrs. Risley called on me, and asked me to come up and bring the children." Mrs. Potts gazed down at the finery in her lap, and at the decaying hopes which it represented to her; she wept afresh.
"Why, I certainly wish you to be somebody. I wish you and the children-" Mr. Potts began. "No, you don't," his wife wailed. "You ain't got the feelings of a man. We can be turned out; we can be beggars and outcas's. We can go back to preaching, and be dogs, and you don't care."
Potts stood alternately gnawing and pawing his fiery whiskers.
"But, Gracie, my dear, consider," he appealed frantically.
"No, you ain't," she blubbered. "You know you ain't."
Potts stood for a moment beside the table, chewing fiercely at his beard, and overwhelmed with grief, penitence, and oddly mingled rage; then he seized his hat and bolted from the room. He went through the lot to a board shed at the rear, which had once harbored the cow of a more prosperous tenant. Entering this, he sat down on the cool, trampled dirt, with his feet stuck straight out before him, and, holding his hands over his chest, gave himself up to meditation.
Potts felt that the problem of life, never easy of solution, had suddenly snarled and drawn into a hard knot for him. He had been reared in primitive orthodoxy, and had begun life as a Methodist minister. To him the commands of the Bible were "Yea, yea," and "Nay, nay." "Thou shalt not bear false witness" were the words now. To commit flat perjury would have been to him as hurling a defiance at God, as leaping into a literal hell. It was that which troubled him; but the temptation in the words of his wife buzzed and whispered to him. He could say truthfully that Risley had never spoken a word to him about the printing of those blanks, and that he had
spoken no word to Risley; certainly Hawk had never mentioned Risley. There were those two peculiar words-but, after all, what were they, that merely on the strength of them he should accuse Captain Risley of fraud? To Potts the prospect of opposing Risley was only less terrifying than that of defying God. That Risley had him in his power in a material way did not count for so much with him; but in the year and a half of their intercourse Risley's strong will had gained a great ascendancy over him, and that he, Potts, should publicly bear witness that impugned Risley-the thought startled him, and, besides, how could it be true? As he thought of it in this light it all became easy to him. He could answer every question promptly; he could say that Risley never said, or wrote, or intimated a thing in connection with those blanks, and could come down from the stand with Risley smiling, his wife pacified, and himself unhurt. And what of those pencilmarks, anyway? Some accident would one day account for them, for it was not possible that Risley could be guilty of a deliberate villainy. He thought over the probable examination, imagining the questions one by one. He answered one after another. The attorney pressed closer and closer. He turned, equivocated, finally lied downright. Then the attorney leveled a threatening finger at him, and thundered, "Do you dare swear to this court, sir, that there are not two words on those proofs written in Captain Risley's hand?" The perspiration stood on Potts's brow. He saw himself stepping off from the only way of life that he had ever known or thought it possible to know, and wandering away into a great, dark unknown somewhere. The straight path was before him, so hard to follow, but so safe; away from that, what was there? A vague and fatal region at which he shuddered.
Again he imagined himself braving Risley, suffering his wife, facing rage, persecution, starvation; and he grew quite heroic over it, and clenched his little fists against his breast. Then his wife's peevish voice, and Risley's dull, persistent eyes and square mouth, came to him, and he unclasped his hands and mopped his face on his shirt-sleeve. There was something in Potts's mind back of this; namely, his idea of his peculiar relations to the Deity. As a Methodist minister he had followed the call until at length the slow, persistent opposition of his wife had worn away his resolution, and he had renounced the ministry to come to Centropolis and found the "Herald." The one thing about Mrs. Potts besides flesh was a kind of social ambition "to be somebody," and the position of a preacher's wife did not suit her at all. When Potts gave up his charge, he did not consider himself a lost man, but he had a
notion that God regarded him askance and with a kind of sorrowing doubtfulness. His prayers were largely apologetic, and he resorted to them with a shamed humility.
BESIDES his own desk, there was in Justice Snagley's court-room a long, narrow table of rough board, more like a broad, long-legged bench, for the lawyers; one bench for the jury; and two other benches and an awkward squad of wooden chairs, of different styles and in different stages of dilapidation, for the spectators.
Håggis, attorney for Risley, sat at one end of the table, bolt upright in his chair, and examining some papers. Haggis was of the build colloquially termed "sawed off," and he had big blue eyes that popped out at you with an expression of pompous surprise. Cleary hoisted his feet comfortably on the other side of the table, and tilted back in his chair. Mr. Cleary was in very good humor. Whatever he knew of Risley's connection with the printing of those blanks, he felt now that Potts's testimony was of minor importance. He looked across the table at the six stupid, honest faces ranged along the jury-bench, and he gleefully assured himself that not a man of them but had paid Risley his three per cent. a month. As he contemplated them his mouth expanded in that incredible grin.
Potts sat on one end of the bench, his hat held between the thumb and forefinger of one hand, and both hands clasped between his thin knees. His coat and vest were unbuttoned, and his mouth was open, taking in the air in long, laborious inspirations.
Huntley sat beside Cleary with his arms resting on the table, and feeling some recompense for the worry and trouble of the past week in his temporary importance-for Huntley had an idea that it was his show. As the spectators dropped in he looked at them with a most hospitable expression, and wished them to feel entirely welcome.
The justice straightened up in his chair, and said, "Well, gentlemen," and the trial began.
When Risley took the stand he fixed his small, wary eyes on Haggis and answered his questions promptly, pulling now and then at his dusty mustache. He testified that he knew nothing of any churn or agency, but supposed the note against Huntley to be given for value, and that he bought it in good faith. Cleary took him in hand with a manner of the blandest confidence; but Risley kept his small, wary eyes upon him, and his small, wary brain, too, and Cleary got nothing from him. He wagged his coercive forefinger in vain; he even smiled at him once or twice without effect. The witness
was very positive that he had no knowledge of any blanks used in the procuring of the note and mortgage, and very, very positive that he had nothing whatever to do with the preparing or printing of such blanks. He was quite willing to swear to this court, as Mr. Cleary threateningly requested him to do, that he never saw any such blanks nor any copy for such blanks. As Risley answered in his calm, monotonous tone, Potts felt a mighty load lifting from his mind. With Mr. Risley's example before him, testifying did not seem so difficult a matter after all.
Potts walked to the chair occupied by the witnesses with a firm step. He squared his shoulders, put his feet together, held up his head, looked the justice square in the face, and took the oath without a tremor. The turmoil of doubt and dismay left his mind, and all his faculties were bent in awaiting the trial; but he was aware in one instant of inward illumination that the question of what he was to say was still undetermined—that it was still to commit perjury or to tell the truth. He informed the court promptly, at Mr. Cleary's request, that his name was Victor C. Potts; that he resided in Centropolis; and that his occupation was editing the "Centropolis Herald" and running the "Herald" printing-office. He knew Hawk, the churn-man, and had done some printing for him; had printed some contracts and some deeds, some notes and some chattel mortgages. He denied that H. Risley was owner, or proprietor, or silent partner of or in the "Herald" establishment, or that he had any supervision over or connection with the printing-office in any way; and he admitted that he had pecuniary relations with Risley, and that Risley was often about the office.
"Now, Mr. Potts, who gave you the order for printing those patent-churn agency-blanks?" "Hawk."
"Did Hawk ever say anything to you which led you to think that Risley had any connection with, or any knowledge of, the preparing or printing of those blanks?"
"No, sir; he did not."
"I don't think he ever did. Certainly, I don't know that he ever did."
Cleary paused a moment, and pulled at his mustache.
"Then, Mr. Potts, you don't know that Risley ever saw those blanks, or the copy for them, or the proofs of them?"
"I'm certain he never saw them in my presence."
Cleary pulled at his mustache, and Potts held himself for the next question. He felt himself at an extreme tension, and he had a desperate wish to plunge through and have done with it. He was aware of Huntley's long, anxious face beyond Cleary, and of the justice's head across from Huntley.
Cleary considered a moment and then he said, "That 's all; take the witness."
As Cleary spoke, and Potts realized that his examination was ended, he experienced a sensation of relief which changed and sank back instantly into an overwhelming fear and depression. He felt a kind of awe and quailing, and he felt himself condemned and cast out. A curtain fell behind him, a lump came into his throat, and there was a palpable heaviness at his heart. Haggis was speaking to him, and Potts turned toward him.
"Your testimony is, then, Mr. Potts," he said, "that, so far as you know, Mr. Risley had no knowledge of those blanks?"
Potts gripped the arms of his chair. He felt his heart hammering in his breast, and his nerves tightened.
"No," he said, fixing his eyes upon the justice and speaking slowly and laboriously; "there were two words-corrections—on the proof in Captain Risley's handwriting."
Haggis bent forward, and his eyes threatened Potts. "There were-what?" he asked incredulously.
"There were two words-corrections— written on the proofs in Captain Risley's hand."
"Are you certain of that? Can you swear that those words were in Captain Risley's hand?"
"I am very familiar with Captain Risley's
"Did you ever mention them to Risley?" hand,-it is peculiar,- and I am positive that No, sir."
"Ever show them to him, either the blanks or the proofs or the copy for the blanks?" "No, sir; never."
the writing on the proof is exactly similar to his."
Potts took in a huge breath. He was quite pale, and there was a deafening rush in his